The 13th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” begins with a bit of
lucky news for the reality show’s latest group of fighters. Relief
washes over the faces of the cast of 14 welterweights as UFC
President Dana White informs them that they will not have to fight
their way into the house.
White is kind enough to forgo any immediate “F-bombs” and limits
himself to simply introducing the new coaches: Brock
Lesnar and Junior dos
Santos. Once the fighters get past the awe of seeing the
Minnesota Norse king and his coaching rival, it’s straight down to
White gives them the quick rundown on where they are, who they are
and what is to be expected. He then announces that there will be a
quick and immediate training session for the coaches to evaluate
their potential charges.
The slimmed-down Lesnar cuts a curious figure has he traverses the
training facility, eying the fighters as if they are show-horses
while clutching a clipboard.
“See if you guys are worth a s--t,” explains Lesnar as he runs them
through cardio tests with his conditioning coach.
Meanwhile, Dos Santos introduces himself clumsily, but no one seems
to care. It’s certainly not that the Brazilian heavyweight’s
English is terrible, because it isn’t. Dos Santos is simply
hesitant and self-conscious speaking in his new tongue, and he
comes off as shy -- an interesting contrast to Lesnar, who is not
exactly a shrinking violet.
“We can speak the fight language,” Dos Santos says, assuring the
fighters he’ll be heard clearly in the end.
Along with “Cigano” is his assistant coach, Lew Polley.
The two have their boys shadow-boxing and wrestling for their own
evaluations. Dos Santos also wields a clipboard, a sight which can
lessen a UFC heavyweight’s tough guy image instantly, like Steven
Tyler putting on his “American Idol” judging glasses and instantly
turning from rock god to grandma. Perhaps a whistle would be
“How many guys here are wrestlers, I wonder?” Brock asks aloud in
his thick Minnesota accent before setting out to extract more
personal information from the fighters. “Why are you here?” he asks
as Dos Santos watches on, lamenting his own language barrier and
lack of instant rapport.
White calls Lesnar and Dos Santos in for some team talk and, unlike
Koscheck and Georges
St. Pierre in the previous season, there are no contentious
arguments between these coaches. The heavyweights are so calm, it’s
not immediately clear that Lesnar and Dos Santos know who one
The mood is laid-back as White explains the rules and makes his
coin flip. Lesnar wins the toss and chooses to select the first
fighter, giving Dos Santos the first choice of matchup.
Lesnar was confident that things would work out regardless of the
coin toss, proclaiming, “Even if we don’t get the best guys, we’ll
have to make chicken salad out of chicken s--t.”
Rader is Lesnar’s second pick (Len Bentley
was the former champion's No. 1 choice) and the New Orleans native
is happy with his new coach, as he explains, “You don’t take a guy
with under five fights and make him a champion. If [the UFC] can do
that with Brock, I can’t wait to see what they do with me.”
Most guys seem happy with their assigned teams. Chris Cope
chuckles, saying, “I love Brock. I hope he loves me.” The statement
earns a retort of “good luck with that” from White.
“I got the biggest alpha male in the world. Forget about Chuck
Norris -- it’s all about Brock Lesnar, right?” laughs Cope.
Away to the “TUF” house they go, where Team Brock claims the
upstairs, while Team Dos Santos takes the downstairs bedroom. Yes,
bedroom -- one room for each team.
Of course, every season it seems inevitable that someone will be
injured before they have a chance to show their wares. This time
it’s undefeated prospect Myles Jury,
whose knee is twisted during evaluations. Jury gets an MRI on his
knee and the doctor tells him he has two torn ligaments.
As the doc lists off the maladies, coach Lesnar shifts his position
to get a better read on Jury’s face as he soaks in the bad news.
Brock offers encouraging words, but shortly thereafter, White
informs Jury that he and his knee will have to be sent home. In his
place enters a fighter by the name of Chuck
O’Neil, who is welcomed to Team Lesnar with big, open arms.
It comes time to announce the first fight and Dos Santos decides to
pair his own top pick, Shamar
Bailey, against Team Lesnar’s last choice, Nordin
Asrih. White puts it in perspective by saying, “You can’t
really tell how good a guy is with a two-hour evaluation.”
Asrih gets right to work with MMA vet Erik Paulson
and we find out the fighter has a lot going on. He’s a devout
Muslim and a German-born citizen who considers himself fully
German. He has a little more experience than Shamar and his
teammates feel that Asrih’s jet lag affected his evaluation.
Bailey talks about building relationships that extend past the
filming of the show, which is probably one of the more heady things
ever said on the first day of “TUF.”
As nobody in the house is bickering yet, we move straight into the
Octagon for the first fight of the season. Bailey has it on the
floor in seconds, but that’s the most urgency he shows, as he seems
content to lay atop Asrih for the rest of the round. In no hurry to
give up position, Bailey methodically picks apart his opponent from
on top. Asrih, for his part, does not do much in the way of
attempting to reverse or escape. He also does not get overwhelmed
and, save for a few late elbows from Bailey, does not come close to
In round two, Asrih falls almost immediately from a poorly timed
kick and Bailey returns to his post as mayor of Mount City. Asrih
has more ideas this time around, reversing position and even
getting on top of Bailey for a moment. Bailey soon reverses this,
however, and continues his light ground-and-pound attack. In the
last few minutes, Bailey begins opening up, working knees to the
body and putting more pep behind his punches. Even as Bailey ups
his energy and Team Dos Santos pours on support from the sidelines,
Asrih is able to survive the round.
Bailey easily wins the unanimous decision and gives Team Dos Santos
a fairly boring, but extremely important, first win. Lesnar takes
the loss in stride, explaining, “they put their best guy against
our last pick, so it’s to be expected.”
Afterward, in the locker room, Lesnar complains about Dos Santos’
team celebrating a bit too loudly for his taste in the next room
over. It should be interesting to see how long Lesnar can remain
this reserved if his team continues to lose.